Monday, February 16, 2009

Economic Recovery

“When the economy recovers,” I heard several talking heads agree during the weekend interview programs, everything will be ok. 

Will the economy recover?  I’m not so sure it will and even if it does make what we could call some semblance of recovery, we will be living in a country that is significantly different.  Recoveries in previous recessions or depressions, and they have come with sickening regularity throughout the history of the country, have had either a “V” shape or a “U” shape.  This time, one economist has predicted, what we are likely to see is an “L” shape.  That’s right, a precipitous drop that will level out and remain the same for decades much like the Japanese economy has looked for the last two decades.

Other writers and economists are not even that optimistic.  “The daily bleeding of thousands of jobs will soon turn our economic crisis into a political crisis,” writes former New York Times foreign correspondent, Chris Hedges.  “The street protests, strikes and riots that have rattled France, Turkey, Greece, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Iceland will descent on us.  It is only a matter of time.  And not much time,” Hedges wrote on February 2nd.  Frankly, I’m surprised that we have not already seen protests in our streets.  The official unemployment rate is reported by the government at 7% but the real figure is probably closer to 12% or 13% if not higher. 

“Our way of life is over,” Hedges wrote.  “Our profligate consumption is finished . . . and poverty and despair will sweep across the landscape like a plague.”

Our economy is, after all, constructed on debt.  Mountains of debt.  Bank debt.  Housing debt.  Car debt.  Student loan debt.  Payday debt.  Credit card debt.  A Mount Everest of debt.  We are no longer citizens of the United States we are consumers.  As consumers, we account for 72% of the gross national product.  We don’t make anything anymore, we consume and let China and other make products for our consumption.  And let’s not forget, war debt.  The economist Joseph Stiglitz  has calculated the eventual total Iraq war debt under Bush at 3 trillion.   Now President Obama is prepared to commit the United States to a continuing imperial debt in Iraq for the foreseeable future of 10 to 12 billion per month and the same or more in Afghanistan.

This system is not sustainable:  it is not going to be OK.  We must begin, now, to see our country and our economic system is a vastly different way.  We need to “measure economic performance by the indicators of what we really want,” writes David Korten, the health and well-being of our children, families, communities, and the natural environment.”  Like the British at the end of World War II, we have to give up empire.  One would have thought that George Bush would have given empire a bad name by now but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  We must confront this “obstacle to national recovery - - the nation’s obsession with militarism and foreign wars,” writes Dave Lindorff.  “The honest truth is that the US is technically bankrupt and in a state of chronic decline, and yet the nation persists in spending a trillion dollars a year on war and preparations for war. . . .”  The truth is, Lindorff says, “that we are not threatened by Communism, by drug lords, or by Muslim Jihadists in any serious way.  Rather, we have become our own worst enemy.” 

We have to become, as Lenin said, as radical as reality itself.

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